Jailhouse flicks have always appealed to me. In one way or another they are usually about escape, which may have been the original lure. I began liking movies about prisoners when I was a kid and in those days I felt like a prisoner a lot of the time, especially in school.
This week’s list is devoted to gritty movies set in prisons. So no tales about goings on inside stockades, brigs or prisoner-of-war camps are included, because in this exercise they are considered to be military movies. That means marvelous films like “The Hill,” “Stalag 17,” or “La Grande Illusion” don’t fall into the prison category this time.
The first week of November’s list is filled with stories in which most of the action takes place behind bars. Another week, perhaps there will be a list of escape/on-the-run films. This installment’s five movies are about living in a penitentiary, they tell us about the tedium of the confinee’s life, as well as the horrors.
Inevitably, the best jailhouse movies are about an individual’s struggle to maintain a shred of dignity in the face of tough odds. Which is a pretty good plot device for any story. And, what’s more essential to the motion pictures business than the escape from one’s personal reality a good movie offers for the price of a ticket?
“Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962): Directed by John Frankenheimer; Cast: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter
“Cool Hand Luke” (1967): Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; Cast: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin
“Dead Man Walking” (1995): Directed by Tim Robbins; Cast: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky
“Midnight Express” (1978): Directed by Alan Parker; Cast: Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins
“Papillon” (1973): Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner; Cast: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory